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Scientists' discovery deep underground could have massive applications: 'Climate holy grail'

Some startup companies are confident it could happen in the coming years.

Some startup companies are confident it could happen in the coming years.

Photo Credit: iStock

In the hunt for alternative fuels, hydrogen has long been considered a potential game-changer. The gas can be used to create energy, and the only emission is water.

However, most hydrogen requires dirty fuel to produce, which is counterproductive in terms of trying to reduce planet-warming pollution.

The discovery of "white hydrogen," though, could change all that, and experts predict it is abundant on Earth. 

White hydrogen, also known as natural hydrogen or gold hydrogen, has been found deep below the Earth's surface, as CNN reported. The outlet observed that most other naturally occurring hydrogen is combined with other molecules, so energy-intensive processes are needed to extract the gas. 

White hydrogen has been found all over the globe, including in the United States, Mali, Oman, and Australia, and researchers in France might have stumbled upon one of the largest deposits of white hydrogen on the planet, per CNN

When Jacques Pironon and Phillipe De Donato from the National Centre of Scientific Research in France went looking for methane in the Lorraine mining basin, a specialized probe to analyze gas found increasing levels of hydrogen the deeper it went. 

According to CNN, Pironon and De Donato believe the reservoir of hydrogen they found could contain anywhere between 6.6 million to 275 million tons of the gas. 

This isn't the only place discoveries are being made, either. In Mali, for example, a former water well was plugged in 1987 after it unexpectedly exploded when a worker was smoking a cigarette. An oil and gas company then unplugged it in 2011, finding that the well was producing 98% hydrogen. That gas has since been used to power the local village, per CNN.

CNN described white hydrogen as "a climate holy grail," and it's not difficult to see why. If the extraction process can be scaled up and commercialized, it has the potential to revolutionize the energy sector and could herald the end of polluting dirty fuel.

As the publication noted, however, it's not yet clear when we can expect to see white hydrogen used in the energy sector. Some startup companies are confident it could happen in the coming years, though.

And the sooner the better. Research from the Energy Institute, summarized by the Guardian, found that 82% of the world's energy consumption came from dirty energy sources in 2022, leading to a 0.8% rise in planet-warming gases expelled into the atmosphere.

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